When big government doesn’t let us help ourselves

As a conservative who believes in the power of individuals and private charities to transform lives, I’ve been told the same lie again and again: “That’s all good, but only government is big enough to take care of us all.”

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But what if that’s not true?  What if government has simply barged in, taken from us our ability to help ourselves and crowded all competitors?

The so-called government “shutdown” (really a “slim down” as 83% of the government is still functioning) has been instructive. Again and again, the federal government has not only closed its doors but it has actively prevented citizens and states from stepping in to fill the void.

Take the war memorials, for example. Instead of barricading these areas, the federal government could’ve called any number of private veterans’ groups and asked for their help. No doubt eager volunteers from the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion would’ve shown people around the memorials, kept the bathrooms stocked and cleaned and given tours. Does anyone doubt they would’ve done a better job manning the Iwo Jima, Vietnam or World War II memorials than government employees we now know are entirely willing to punish the public to protect their prerogatives?

In fact, the Republican National Committee even stepped in and offered to pay for the cost of opening and maintaining the war memorials. The government’s response?  No dice.

What about the granddaddy of national parks? The mighty Grand Canyon? The state of Arizona offered to pay to keep the park open. Plus, small Arizona towns are collecting money:

Tusayan, on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, has 558 residents and 1,000 hotel rooms. And by Saturday, it had $350,000 to reopen temporarily closed Grand Canyon National Park.

“The reason we exist is the Grand Canyon National Park. This closure is devastating,” said Greg Bryan, Tusayan’s mayor and general manager of a Best Western hotel.

The government slim down also affected Catholic soldiers in the military who don’t have enough chaplains to minister to them. The general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, John Schlageter, explains:

There is a chronic shortage of active duty Catholic chaplains. While roughly 25% of the military is Catholic, Catholic priests make up only about 8% of the chaplain corps. That means approximately 275,000 men and women in uniform, and their families, are served by only 234 active-duty priests. The temporary solution to this shortage is to provide GS and contract priests.

Under the government slim down, these contracted chaplains are not allowed to work. Even though some have volunteered to minister for free, the government has told them they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.

In each of the above circumstances, the federal government is not only unwilling to perform its basic functions, it is prohibiting citizens from stepping up. This is government at its worst — literally requiring us to need their services.

How many more functions has the federal government taken from citizens who can do the job better, more efficiently and with greater care? We spend one trillion dollars in means-tested welfare in this country yet the poverty rate remains stubbornly high and our cities and towns struggle with an underclass that is mired in criminality and misery.

That’s the best the government can do?

Before the welfare state, the hallmark of American life was social mobility. People may start out poor but they had a chance to progress, to succeed. Now? They start poor and stay poor thanks, in many ways, to the welfare state we allegedly can’t live without.

In ways large and small, the government does more than just tell us we can’t live without it — it uses its power to make and enforce laws to ensure we must live with it — whether we like it, need it or even want it.

Nancy A. French is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @NancyAFrench 

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